The Shoemaker softball team set out this season to prove they’re not the underdogs.
“I think the first game of the season when we played Temple, it just set the tone,” said coach Steve Mattox. “You could just feel the electricity in the air, and when Deborah (Hamilton) hit that home run and we scored that winning run, you could just feel it.
“I think that was the most important game of our season because we just started out on a positive note and rode it from there. So that was definitely the best game this year.”
Shoemaker carried that momentum through District 12-6A, clinching its first playoff spot since 2009 with a 9-7 record.
For senior center fielder Hamilton, contributing to that drought-snapping historic moment means
“When I came here as a freshman, people asked me, ‘What school are you going to?’ and I said ‘Shoemaker,’” Hamilton recalled. “And they said, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry,’ and it offended me because when I came here people all said this was the laughingstock of softball, of everything.
“Well, we turned it around and we broke (the streak) and we proved everyone wrong and it means everything to me — not just proving everyone wrong, but proving to ourselves that we can do anything we put our minds to.”
When senior Tamera Johnson moved to Killeen at the start of the school year, she heard similar things about Shoemaker’s reputation.
“People asked, ‘Do you play any sports?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, softball’,” Johnson recalled. “And people were like, ‘Wow, they’re bad.’
“I thought to myself, ‘It only takes one’ and if I could just be this one — not to be better than everyone, but the one to pull the strings tighter then that’s what I want to be and that’s what I feel I’ve done this season.”
Talking with their bats
“I’ve been at this school since it started in 2001,” Mattox said. “So I’ve been here since the beginning, and it’s always been one of those things where it’s been a struggle here with us.
“People always question Shoemaker and don’t really believe in Shoemaker sometimes, with the exception of some people.”
While many had written off the Lady Wolves before the season began, one particular moment of doubt from over the years sticks out to Hamilton.
“My sophomore year I was put at second because there was nobody to play at second,” she said. “I missed a pop fly and it hit me straight in the head and the other dug out were laughing at me like, ‘Oh, she can’t even make a pop fly’ and I came up that next at-bat and hit a home run.
“That goes to show that you talk with your bat, use your actions instead of words. In that moment, yeah I was angry, but you have to take it out at the plate to prove them wrong.”
Mattox has seen that mindset spread and motivate his players.
“This bunch has grown every step of the way,” he said. “They’ve gotten more mentally tough, physical. They’ve gotten stronger, faster and they have confidence.
“You see the confidence more than anything else, even practices have changed in the course of four years where they learned that they have to work hard, but this has been a fantastic bunch. They work hard, they play hard and they have fun.”
Shoemaker has seen a few droughts broken this school year — from the football team that broke a 27-game losing streak in October to the Lady Wolves making their first playoff appearance in 10 years.
“It’s fantastic,” Mattox said. “Like I said, I’ve been at Shoemaker a long time and if we can shine a positive light on our school, on our athletes, to me, it means the world.”
“This school means a lot to me,” he added, as his voice cracked with emotion. “If we can shine a light to the public and show people outside of Killeen what we represent, I take a lot of pride in that.
“I believe we’ve continued the legacy that (former coach) Kelly Berg started in 2009,” Mattox added. “We represent Killeen well when we’re out there playing ball, and I know we represent Shoemaker very well when we’re out there.
“People, when they play us, they understand that we’re not going to give up and we’re going to do whatever it takes to win the game or play hard in the game.”
The Lady Wolves head into the postseason with rising star sophomore Madalyne Martinez in the circle.
“Maddy’s matured tremendously over the years. Last year she came as a freshman and pitched a little shaky, but she still pitched very well, obviously,” Mattox said. “We put her in a hard spot because she predominantly pitched most of our games.”
Martinez put in a lot of work over the summer and in the offseason, Mattox said, including working with a couple of coaches on her pitching.
“She’s got so much more confidence with it,” he added. “She’s gotten a whole lot better; she’s tremendous and she’s just going to grow.
And while the Lady Wolves have come this far, Martinez knows the fight starts all over as they face District 11-6A champ Rockwall in the first round of the playoffs.
“Last year we worked toward the playoffs,” Martinez said Thursday night. “And we still couldn’t get it, but this year we stepped up to the plate.
“We had challenges, but we faced them. Like tonight, we may have lost but we put our hearts out and that counts and that’s what we’re going to keep on doing.”
Stepping up to the plate
The Lady Wolves clinched their ticket to the playoffs with an 8-6 win over Copperas Cove on Tuesday, but Hamilton knows people may still doubt Shoemaker following a 3-1 loss Thursday to Harker Heights.
“It hurts a lot,” she said following the regular season finale. “Even though we made playoffs, people start to question if Shoemaker should have even made the playoffs, but we take this as a lesson.
“Once we jump on it, we have to stay on it and we have to make the routine plays, so we take this as motivation to keep on pushing.”
Johnson injured her right knee late in the game against Harker Heights after sliding into third base on a steal in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Unsure if she would be able to heal in time for the postseason, Johnson, on crutches, made her way to the postgame circle meeting and the Lady Wolves were overcome with emotion.
“It’s my first year and I was welcomed with open arms from the very beginning,” Johnson said. “I had a real problem with being in my head and getting in my head, and every step of the way they were there.”
In the short time the senior shortstop has been with the Lady Wolves, she has grown to see her teammates as sisters and voiced no doubt that her teammates will go out to finish what they started together this season.
“I just hope that we continue strong,” she said. “Some games we just come in too tight. ... I think we need to just come in level-headed and we’ll be fine.”
Being able to say she helped break the playoff drought for Shoemaker sets the tone for the remainder of Martinez’s high school career.
“Every season I set a goal and this time we reached our team goal of going to the playoffs and I reached 200 strikeouts,” she said. “So next year it’s going to be more goals.
“Everyone is going to set and reach their goals. I’m going to help them succeed. That’s what I’m going to do with my next two years.”
Regardless of the way the season ended for Johnson, being a member of this Lady Wolves squad will always remain with her.
“It’s not even the breaking of history, but the team,” she said. “Like, how well we’re put together and how much of a family we are.”
Among the memories Hamilton has made in her four years at Shoemaker, being a member of this history-making team ranks at the very top.
“That’s going to be one of my proudest moments,” she said laughing as she thought about the future. “Hey guys, your mom helped break the streak.
“Ten years, a drought is now broken.”
First Round (best-of-3)
All games at Waco ISD Complex
- GAME 1: Shoemaker vs. Rockwall, Wednesday, 5 p.m.
- GAME 2: Shoemaker vs. Rockwall, Friday, 5 p.m.
- GAME 3 (if necessary): 30 minutes after Game 2